Experts & advocates on renewable energy, mining, land rights discuss JFI’s report on mining

Prompted by JFI Lead Independent Researcher Francis Tseng’s highly comprehensive report on the future of mining and renewable energy, JFI convened a live Twitter conversation between experts and advocates in renewable energy, economics, geology, indigenous rights, land rights, and related issues. The Twitter chat hosted Francis alongside Thea Riofrancos, Daniel Aldana Cohen, Professor Julie Klinger, Ingrid Burrington, Frederico Freitas, Kathryn Goodenough, Jamie Kneen with Rabble Canada and Mining Watch.

Francis’s report, “Inside Out,” examines the relationship between a transition to renewable energy infrastructure and the myriad harms of mining. As the Trump Administration issued an executive order in April encouraging private US mineral extraction in space, and the State Department staked a claim to other rare earth minerals in March, the piece provides a timely look at the future of mining and issues of outsourced harm that such mining can entail. Read a summary of the piece here.

Our discussion on Twitter garnered vital attention to the issues of mineral supply, potential harms of extraction, and larger economic and humanitarian trends relevant to a renewable energy transition. An archive of the discussion is below, ordered by theme. You can also search #JFIMiningChat on Twitter to view the Twitter chat record there. Thank you to our core Twitter chat participants for the incredible discussion that left us with more great resources on the issue and key perspectives to bear in mind.

Outsourced Harm, Geographies of Pollution/Extraction

The report underscores the ubiquitous nature of mining and pollution’s impacts for the rare earth minerals that are necessary for alternative energy sources. This is a core consideration in the report: what are the ways mining impacts the environment and people alike, and what are pathways to mitigate that impact? Thea Riofrancos and Daniel Aldana-Cohen, co-authors of A Planet to Win: The case for a Green New Deal, discussed how class, race, and geography determine who suffers the harms of extraction. Mining Watch pointed out how copper and lithium extraction reveal unequal relationships between the Global North and South, and the potential for new areas of conflict related to mining. Ingrid Burrington and Professor Julie Klinger discussed individual versus structural foci for change:

Rethinking Scarcity and Consumption Frameworks

A transition away from fossil fuels will increase global demand for metals, including rare earth minerals. The report outlines potential supply concerns under future renewable energy transition scenarios, but shifts the focus from scarcity to the question of “environmental and human” burdens of extraction. Professor Julie Klinger, author of Rare Earth Frontiers, a vital research work on this topic, emphasized the distinction between “actual” scarcity and structural, or social, scarcity. Daniel Aldana Cohen argued that global consumption patterns in a green future ought to change from prioritizing private consumption to prioritizing collective consumption.

Professor Julie Klinger’s analysis of scarcity arguments was particularly informative of the various operative frames used in arguing for greater mineral extraction that underscore a status quo of exorbitant energy consumption patterns at a structural level.

Metal Mining and Indigenous Rights

Francis’ report details how expanding extractivist regimes continue to encroach on Indigenous lands to mine the metals used in low-carbon technologies. We asked: How can we prevent attacks on Indigenous rights from escalating with the increasing demand for metals in a renewable energy transition? Frederico Freitas, Assistant Professor of Latin American history and environmental policy at North Carolina State University explained how both large-scale and small-scale mining harm local Indigenous populations, especially in “gold rush” environments. Thea Riofrancos envisioned a green trade regime founded on respecting Indigenous sovereignty and labor rights, as outlined in A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal.

Racial Justice and Renewable Energy Futures

Daniel Aldana Cohen drew attention to the complex links between environmental and racial justice, and introduced eco-apartheid, or “a regime of greening affluence for the few at the expense of the many,” as a potential analytical lens. Professor Julie Klinger argued for a Green New Deal grounded in a “reparations sensibility,” centering Black lives and racial justice.